Thursday, September 01, 2011

Faith Works 9-3

Faith Works 9-3-11

Jeff Gill


What is a Powwow?




This weekend, where Newark and Heath meet, a gathering of Native Americans will take place, called a "Powwow."


On the grounds of the Great Circle, part of the Newark Earthworks, just off to one side of the 2,000 Native achievement, a space for dancing and singing will be set apart.


The host organization, the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio, has held these gatherings for almost 30 years, with the gate proceeds helping maintain their presence on the south side of Columbus. In that neighborhood where a relocated population of Native peoples came together from a variety of tribal backgrounds, many following work during and after World War II, a woman named Selma Walker put together a community center that is a home for a variety of educational and service organizations, recovery group meetings, and a food pantry.


Her daughter, Carol Welsh, lives here in Licking County with her husband Mark, and she is now the director of NAICCO. The two of them work to manage and promote the center, and they have been continuing the tradition of annual Memorial Day & Labor Day weekend Powwows at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, over in Hilliard.


This year, with the support and co-operation of the Licking County Convention & Vistors Bureau (who staff the museum by the opening of the Great Circle, just off of Rt. 79), and the Newark Earthworks Center of OSU's Newark Campus, they have come to visit Licking County.


The last "official" gathering of Native people on the site to encamp and sing and dance was in . . . 1889. Why 1889? That's because Buffalo Bill Cody's "Wild West Show" was performed inside the Great Circle when it was still the Licking County Fairgrounds, and as a handbill for the show said, the entourage included the "largest delegation of wild Indians ever brought east."


Cody said in the Newark Advocate of the Newark Earthworks that they were "the most wonderful mounds in existence." Sadly, no one asked the Indian contingent their opinion, a group that probably included Sitting Bull himself.


I said "official" because there was a later gathering, and an "unofficial" encampment at the Great Circle in 1992. The Ohio Historical Society, owners and managers of the site since 1933, had approved an archaeological dig to slice a section of the mound to determine the stages of construction, and to try to narrow down the date after which the enclosure was built.


Some Native people were concerned that this act had the potential to disrespect the site, and did not have sufficient input and oversight from their viewpoint, so an encampment sprang up for most of the dig, with archaeologists (full disclosure, including me!) working as Native people from around central Ohio keeping a watchful presence, including a prayer circle.


For some of those Native guardians, this was their first visit to the Great Circle, and they came away from the experience both having heard a bit more about what archaeologists were after (we weren't searching for treasure or bones, but data), and having shared their worldview with respectful listeners (I met people I've gotten to work with for the succeeding twenty years). Relationships with the place, and with people began.


We don't all agree even now, except that the place is important, and meaningful, and a proper setting to reflect on Nature, our lives, and community. At a Powwow, the sound of the drum is meant to give everyone who hears a connection to the heart of creation, and while there will be spiritual perspectives around the circle that don't agree, the heart of a Powwow is respect and thankfulness, to each other, and to the One who created us.


The best way to understand what goes on at a Powwow is to visit one, and all are invited this weekend to the dance circle next to the Great Circle Museum, just outside of the earthwork itself. Grand entry is at 1:00 & 7:00 pm on Saturday & Sunday, and  at 1:00 pm on Monday. The charge is $7 for day entry, $13 for a weekend pass, and entry is just $3 seniors & students.
You can come to watch, to hear the drum and the singers, to eat (the food is always good); there are opportunities for everyone to dance when invited by the master of ceremonies, who does a marvelous job of explaining each portion of the Grand Entry. Drum and flute playing contests along with the dancers themselves will give you memories to last a lifetime, and the conversations along the vendor booths may cause you to join in a circle of relationship that goes far beyond even this awe-inspiring site.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he will be in the Newark Earthworks Center booth most of the weekend when he's not giving tours of the Great Circle! After Monday, he will see but he will tweet @Knapsack all weekend.